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Players take the roles of nine guests at a banquet in the time of Caligula, each with a secret objective.
Over the years, I've come to like Bang a bit less and less, if only because with some groups the game takes entirely too long. I love the theme, but I want to do something like that in a shorter frame of time. Bacchus' Banquet (Mayfair Games, 2008 - Frederic Moyersoen) manages to do this, as players each take the role of either Caligula or someone at one of his overflowing banquets. Each player has a separate goal for winning, and a lot of gift giving occurs until one player pulls off the victory.
Since a player can win even if one of their characters has been killed, and the game uses belt buckles for player tracks, I was immediately charmed by the game. I was a bit wary of the theme, but it remains suitable for families; and if anything, it teaches the dangers of overeating! The game takes thirty minutes or less and includes bluffing, deduction, and secret roles. All this will cause players to enjoy it enough to want to try it again. Funny and fun, Bacchus' Banquet is an enjoyable card game that will have folks laughing and taunting one another.
Each player is given a player display, which mainly shows the goals for each of the guests in the game but also has a "fullness level" track. The player uses a buckle piece on the track, starting it at zero. Players are then randomly dealt one of the nine guest cards (Caligula is in every game), which they keep secret - except Caligula, who is revealed immediately. All players also receive one privilege card (Caligula gets two), and a pile of Action cards is shuffled and placed face down in the middle of the table. Seven of these Action cards are turned face up in a circle around the pile, and the player who is Caligula begins the game, becoming the first active player.
On each turn, the active player chooses three of the face up cards and secretly looks at them. One of the cards is discarded face down; one of them is placed face down in front of the player; and third is offered face down to another guest as a "gift". The player to whom the gift is offered must either accept it, flipping it face up in front of them, or pass it on to another player, "gifting" it to them. If nobody accepts the card, then the original giver must flip it face up, placing the card in front of them. The player who finally accepts the card becomes the active player for the next round. However, if a player has two fewer cards in front of them than all other players, they may immediately claim a gift card and become the active player.
Most of the cards are food and wine cards - each with a number on them, showing how far the player must move their belt buckle piece. If a player ever moves the buckle to or past the "10" on the track, their character dies; and they must discard their guest card, along with any action cards they have gained, drawing a new guest card (effectively starting over). Other cards in the deck include poison cards (which add enormous amounts of points to the belt track), exercise cards (which subtract points from the track), present cards (which do nothing but are key to some of the guests' victory conditions), dagger cards (which do nothing, but three of them in play kill Caligula), and special action cards (which allow the player to discard food cards, etc.)
Players can also use their Privilege cards once a game, discarding them afterwards. These cards are similar to special action cards, and they allow players to steal gifts, exchange cards, or give back gifts.
The game continues until one of the players can claim victory for their guest. Each character has a different victory condition. For example, Claudius wins if he eats three items of food and drinks at least three points of wine. Caesonia wins if she gets three of the six different "present" cards. Octavius wins if three daggers are on the table, or if Caligula dies. Caligula wins if he eats two items and drinks five points of wine, or if three other guests are killed. It is possible to have more than one player win (since three guests want Caligula dead).
Some comments on the game...
Bacchus' Banquet isn't anything to be taken too seriously; it's merely a simple, light card game. However, the funny theme and artwork, combined with the guessing on what kind of gifts people offered to you, keep the game fresh and enjoyable. With five people and only thirty minutes, this is the perfect game to pull out to keep game night moving quickly; and repeat games will likely occur since it finishes in a speedy manner. Some folks will likely not enjoy the bluffing aspect, but I found it entertaining, and the whole concept of keeping your food intake low worked well for the game, giving it a very unique feel. So fasten your belts and eat away!
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